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Staff Picks: Music

Tony and Bill

Sometimes I'll judge an album by its cover. I know I shouldn't but when terrible hairdos, wide ties and 1970's polyester are involved, c'mon, can it really be worth listening to? Well, look beyond the corny cover photograph and you'll find a lot to like about this album which pairs two musical heavy weights together as they make their way through sorrowful laments and heart-felt longing. This album cobbles together two previous titles, The Tony Bennett and Bill Evans Album (1975) and 1977's Together Again. Bennett, at the time of the recordings, was not considered a "jazz singer" as much as troubadour of Broadway tunes and American Songbook Standards and these recordings certainly suggest that his enthusiasm for jazz was greater than his skill set. He did however correctly choose to marry his vocal strengths with a talented piano player who can more than hold his own when Bennett takes a breather from the mic. The results are excellent and jazz listeners will eat up this classic if they haven't heard it already.


Nina Simone

A new Netflix documentary titled What Happened, Miss Simone? has recently generated interest from film and music critics. Simone was a true original in every sense of the term. Her resume includes being a classically trained musician who attended Julliard, a vocal civil rights firebrand who wrote songs memorializing MLK and the young victims of a church bombing in Mississippi (Mississippi Goddamn), and an innovative Jazz vocalist who often mixed her classical training into her renditions of Jazz and Blues standards. She was also a complex human being who suffered from mental illness and butted heads with the music industry throughout much of her career. She’s widely considered one of the great musicians of the 20th century. Check out her music from the library’s music collection or stream the albums through Hoopla and Freegal.


Updating the Classics

For those who like pop music of the 1960’s but who may have grown weary of the original version of their favorite songs may want to give the newest She & Him album a try. Simply and aptly named Classics, M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel tackle mostly A-side covers of well-worn pop and jazz tunes with the same level of sweetness and whimsy of their previous work. For those who are familiar with the duo’s love of all things twee and vintage, you won’t be surprised that their engagement with standards like Unchained Melody, Time After Time, Stay Awhile and This Girl’s In Love with You is freshly updated yet still rooted to the song’s era and personality. For some, this will be an exercise in pointless recycling but for others, an entertaining tribute.


Bargains in the Basement - Live and Local

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This week’s #1 find was from KPL’s extensive music collection; a copy of the Ken Morgan Jazz Unit (Ken Morgan, saxophones, flute; Gail Baker, vocals; Matt Jackson, piano; Paul Erhard, bass; Mike Roush, drums), recorded Live at Chaps on Main (remember Chaps?) on a very cool Saturday evening in February, 1979. I have a copy of this on vinyl from long ago, but I must admit that I haven’t played it in quite some time. After listening to the CD, I found it rather remarkable how well the music holds up some three-and-a-half decades later. The sound is clean, bright, and immediate, and the band is on fire. Do yourself a favor and give this one a spin (again), it’s worth the effort.

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My other pre-holiday treat was a somewhat more recent (and also local) Friends Find, a 2007 10-track compilation from the WMU Jazz Studies Program called Jazz Tracks (and since this copy comes from the Friends Bookstore, I get to keep it!). Jazz Tracks features the usual WMU musical heavyweights; Western Jazz Quartet (Trent Kynaston, Tom Knific, Steve Zegree, Tim Fronek), University Jazz Orchestra, the Justin Avery Band, and others. The CD also comes with a couple of video clips buried deep inside, including Gold Company performing a Duke Ellington tune on stage with none other than Bobby McFerrin. How cool is that?! And here’s a holiday hint… there is a small box of other assorted local (WMU, KSO, etc.) CDs sitting on the shelf in the Friends Bookstore, right next to the local books. Just right for budget priced stocking stuffing!


Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!


The Voice of Christmas

Bing Crosby's famous rendition of White Christmas may well be the most beloved and well known holiday song. It's a song that every December becomes an ubiquitous element of everyday life, almost inescapable as it leaks into existence from mall speakers, headphones and television sets. A new biographical portrait of Crosby's personal and professional life as well as his pop cultural significance will be featured on the PBS television program American Masters this Tuesday (December 2nd). Interested in more than just his holiday songs, check out more here.


Christmas… and All That Jazz

Winter is here in all its glory and with the holiday season (and, of course, Record Store Day) right around the corner, it’s time for another Bargain Basement adventure. This time there are two worth bragging about… well, ok, maybe more like five or six but who’s counting?

First, if you’re in the mood for some new jazz (and who’s not?), Friends Bookstore has a whole cart full of new acquisitions. Seriously. A whole cart full. Ok, even I’ll admit that there’s some pretty obscure stuff in there, but for a couple of bucks each, you definitely can’t go wrong. I made out like a bandit with three killer titles by local (but nationally famed) jazzman, Tom Knific; Siena, Lines of Influence, and Home Bass. Siena features a full cast of heavies, including pianist Fred Hersch and one of my longtime favorite guitar artists, John Abercrombie. Impressive stuff, indeed. Lines is a quartet record with pianist John Knific, drummer extraordinaire Keith Hall, and tasty sax work by Chris Geckstrom. Lastly, Tom’s “Duos and Trios” release, Home Bass, boasts an equally impressive cast, with Billy Hart, drums; Trent Kynaston, sax; and others. All are wonderful recordings and terrific finds.

And… just in time for the holidays, Friends have so cleverly set up a cart chock full of holiday music and seasonal videos. Sinatra and Bing and all the classics are there, of course, but as I’ve confessed here before, I tend to seek out the more unusual when it comes to musical holiday fare. (There’s even a new film about this strange obsession due to arrive in December. There’s a trailer below - thanks for the tip, Karl!) So, in between the Mannheim Steamrollers and the Gregorian chanters, along comes this cool collection called Maybe This Christmas Too? with Dave Matthews, Barenaked Ladies, Oh Susanna, and the Flaming Lips. Nice! I also grabbed a lovely disc from Utah with some wonderful guitar and violin works by Michael Lucarelli and Kelly Parkinson. And to top it off, I managed to secure a swingin’ copy of Have Yourself A Tractors Christmas. Priceless. 


Bargains in the Basement is an occasional series highlighting noteworthy items unearthed in the lower level of Central Library. What a treasure we have (quite literally) in the Friends Bookstore. When you can grab high quality books, music, and movies for little more than pocket change, life is good. And all the proceeds go to help support the library. So shop often; you never know what you’ll find. And stay tuned… I’ll let you know what I find!

 


Dave Brubeck

I have a pretty wide taste spectrum for the various jazz styles and movements that have unfolded over the past 50 years or so. One of those musicians that I enjoy listening to as summer turns to fall is the pianist Dave Brubeck. Along with Gerry Mulligan, Chico Hamilton, Chet Baker, Wes Montgomery, and Paul Desmond, Brubeck was considered one of the most popular players associated with the "cool jazz" of the West Coast scene (his visage was famously featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954). Brubeck w as an adventurous innovator whose style could be characterized by unconventional time signatures as well as his warm tones and lyrical flourishes.His most famous album and composition (a commercial hit of its time) is the standard Take Five, which was written along side of the great alto saxophonist Paul Desmond who was a member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet.


The Sound of Summer

Yes, summer is on the short end of its calendar life and soon the leaves will be falling and I'll want to listen to more brooding, pensive music. But for now, the sweet, melodic, and laidback sounds of Bossa Nova fit perfectly with the time spent in the hot sun and strolling along the lake's meandering surf. For those looking for a great introduction to the Brazilian music developed in the early 1960’s, check out Bossa Nova and the rise of Brazilian Music in the 1960’s.

This compilation contains a who’s who of artists of the period, when Brazilian musicians mixed American jazz influences with South American rhythms. If you’re searching for Bossa Nova artists in Hoopla or Freegal, then give these well-known artists a shot: Bebel Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, Stan Getz (made several Bossa Nova tinged albums), João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Charlie Byrd, Sergio Mendes, and Wanda Sa.


A Rainy Day Playlist

Oh rainy day, what should I play? If you’re anything like me and you appreciate the ocassional dark skies and leisurely fall of rain, your playlist is probably a reflective collection of moody and somewhat somber tunes. On days like today, Classical, Film Scores and Jazz reign (pun intended).

How about a little music from the film Magnolia’s soundtrack:



Keeping with film scores, nobody does gloomy and melodic better than Philip Glass:

 

Often lumped in with the French Impressionism of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy, Erik Satie's hauntingly simple music evokes nostalgia and memory:

 

In her heyday, Billie Holiday's singular style was unmatched in expressing the depth of human emotion:

Two titans of modern music, Aaron Copland and Benny Goodman:

And lastly, the beauty and simplicity of The Beatitudes as performed by The Kronos Quartet and featured in the film The Great Beauty:

 

Music

Piano Works Satie
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Liked That, Try This (No. 1)

Looking for artists similar to those you already know about and enjoy? Well, we’ll try to make suggestions that expand your musical listening experience by connecting like-sounding artists together.

• Liked Jackson Browne, try Dawes 
• Liked The Avett Brothers, try The Felice Brothers
• Liked Neko Case, try Laura Marling
• Liked Miles Davis, try Chet Baker
• Liked MGMT, try The Flaming Lips
• Liked The Cocteau Twins, try Beach House
• Liked New Order, try The Knife
• Liked Bob Marley, try Peter Tosh
• Liked Billie Holiday, try Diane Krall
• Liked The White Stripes, try Wanda Jackson 
• Liked Wilco, try Fleet Foxes
• Liked Pink, try Robyn
• Liked Bon Iver, try Elliott Smith
• Liked Mumford and Sons, try The Head and the Heart
• Liked Frank Sinatra, try Kurt Elling

Music

the head and the heart
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